Archives August 2010

Upcoming Dist. 1 Candidates Debate

Maryland primary elections will be held on Sept. 14. If you haven’t received a sample ballot by now, you probably should verify that you’re registered to vote.

Various organizations are holding a series of debates around Montgomery County on a variety of topics. Next Thursday, Sept. 2, the Randolph Civic Association (www.randolphcivic.org) will host the third of three debates between major Democratic candidates for the District One Council seat. District One includes White Flint, and given Montgomery County’s overwhelming Democratic registration, this is probably the important election. Republican candidate Robert Vricella has no primary opposition.

Incumbent Roger Berliner will meet his principal opponent Ilaya Hopkins at 7:30PM at the Viers Mill Park recreation building, 4425 Garrett Park Road, Silver Spring, 20906. Berliner has been endorsed by the Washington Post; Hopkins by the Gazette.

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Note that, despite the address, this park is actually in the Randolph Hills area of White Flint. This is a beautiful hidden area of Rock Creek Park, and this is a chance to sample the park if you haven’t already explored it.

Panelists will ask questions submitted from the audience. Since the moderator is Dan Hoffman, of the Citizens League and Randolph Civic Association, and a couple of the panelists are White Flint activists (Chad Salganik of Randolph Hills and me), you can bet that at least some questions will be on White Flint. I intend to ask about White Flint financing plans and about changing the County’s “sprawl and crawl” automobile culture.

Also, a week later, on Tuesday, September 7, at 7PM, a number of organizations, including the Citizens League of Montgomery County, www.mococitizens.org, will host a debate for the four at-large Council seats. The bigger debate will be held at Brookside Gardens, 1800 Glenallan Ave. in Wheaton.

Barnaby Zall

Um . . . What?

Regular readers will remember that I’m no great fan of County Executive Ike Leggett’s views on White Flint. He and I have had direct conversations on this. I disagree with his promotion of the County Dept. of Transportation’s automobile-centric approach over pedestrian safety and sustainability. I think he is LONG overdue (like, a year) in presenting a plan for financing White Flint’s needed infrastructure. I think he is endangering the entire Plan by reinforcing Montgomery County’s reputation for inconstancy — not being able (or willing) to keep its promises over the long term.

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(Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett at White Flint groundbreaking)

So it is with some amusement that I note that one of Leggett’s erstwhile challengers is criticizing him for his “push for urbanization of Montgomery County in places like White Flint”, as Douglas Rosenfeld, a Republican running in the upcoming Sept. 14 primary election, told the Gazette newspaper.  

 Barnaby Zall

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall”

(Robert Frost)

A lively discussion on the invaluable blog Greater Greater Washington about the wall in the middle of Marinelli Rd. between the White Flint Metro Station and the headquarters of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (a Friends of White Flint member). The wall blocks people coming out of the Metro Station from going straight across the street into the NRC.

Some people believe the wall is another example of exalting automobiles over pedestrians. Others think it is part of the post-9/11 protections for the NRC.

Jeff Dunkle, an affable young man in charge of Montgomery County’s pedestrian safety engineering, replied:

     Montgomery County prefers, at heavily trafficked intersections, to have pedestrians cross at crosswalks with pedestrian signals – – especially when these signals are already located in proximity to the “desire line” crossing. This stone wall effectively “channelizes” pedestrians to the signalized crossing – – essentially 40 feet to the west of the Metro Station entrance. Comments regarding the history of this wall are correct. At this entrance to the White Flint Metro Station, there had previously been an uncontrolled, unconventional crosswalk set back from the intersection. Pedestrians attempting to cross there were placed in serious jeopardy of vehicles hitting them, as drivers proceeding on green signals would unexpectedly encountered pedestrians attempting to cross Marinelli some 40 to 60 feet back from the intersection. The orignal condition that Cavin is suggesting be restored was indeed a very hazardous crossing situation. This is why the County changed it over 5 years ago. The wall had nothing to do with security, but rather with improving pedestrian safety and aesthetics. The stone wall was intended to reflect the “white flint” location. That being said, the County usually favors softer channelization measures for pedestrians – – such as the landscaped streetscape and median berms of Silver Spring and Bethesda. We don’t believe these softer channelization measures endanger pedestrians either. I also will add that observations of our traffic engineers and review of pedestrian collision data indicate these measures – – only one of the many measures now being employed in the County – – are indeed working. The White Flint Metro Station entrance on Marinelli is much safer today than it was at the turn of the century. We don’t want to go back.

Sometimes making things tough for pedestrians is not a bad thing.

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(Across Rockville Pike from the Metro Station and NRC)

Interesting, though, that the County thought that a “stone wall . . . reflect[ed] the ‘white flint’ location” instead of the “usual[] softer channelization measures for pedestrians.” Maybe they think White Flint pedestrians are particularly hard to “channelize”? Besides, if they truly wanted to reflect the existing White Flint, it should have been a patch of asphalt with a few cars parked on it.

Barnaby Zall

Report from Stakeholders Meeting on Residents’ Tax

Winning the War, Before the Battle Begins – Condo Owners Not Taxed

White Flint District Meeting, August 18, 2010 at 10 a.m. 

Call it effective activism, being ahead of the ‘curve, or common sense prevails, but on Wednesday morning last week, a group of residential property owner representatives and interested citizens joined the regular group of primarily commercial property owners and the County representatives at the White Flint District meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to review the current Executive Branch’s proposal (it was continually reiterated that the draft has not been viewed nor approved by the County Executive himself) for the White Flint Development Tax District. We are pleased to report that the new proposal does NOT include existing residential condominium buildings in the proposed Development Tax District, and these properties would only be added in the future if they were to redevelop. Thank you to everyone that had contacted the County Executive and his staff and Council members over the past several weeks to remind them that the existing residential condominium community’s support of the White Sector Plan was dependent on being excluded from new taxing district.  Further, as Paul Meyer pointed out, and the Executive staff agreed were important points:

  •  ·         Many of the older residents will hear the noise of construction, but not see and receive benefits from the fruits of the final product
  • ·         the majority of these existing residential owners are on fixed incomes and would be adversely  impacted by an increase in taxes and/or condominium fees, particularly if they did not own their property the next 20-40 years, to utilize the benefits of the transportation improvements or increased property values like the commercial property owners
  • ·         Many of the residents supported the White Flint Sector Plan, but if they had to pay a special unexpected tax tied to funding Sector Plan infrastructure, many would be against the Plan  
  • The significant main remaining issues with the development tax district discussion appear to be: 

    •         How the County will confirm its commitment to make the planned improvements and its commitment to cover any gap in the financing needed to make improvements in accordance with the timing of the phased Sector Plan
    •          Whether there will be a cap for the commercial property owner tax rates for the district
    •         Whether the commercial property owners paying this tax will also be required to pay impact taxes.  

    Although there may not be consensus on these items before the proposal is formally submitted to the Council by the Executive, the goal was to submit the proposal this fall so this Council -the same one that approved the Sector Plan – can approve the legislation. We’ll stay tuned to see how these issues are addressed and to confirm that the description of the new district does indeed exclude the existing residential condominium properties.        

    Todd Lewers

    White Flint Sector Plan on the correct road to pedestrian safety

    NEW URBAN NEWS  Volume 15, Number 5 – July/August 2010

    To save lives, shift from arterial roads

    Arterial roads – especially those with heavy traffic volumes, high speeds, and strip commercial developments such as big-box stores – are undermining Americans’ safety. The extent of the danger was investigated recently by Eric Dumbaugh and Wenhao Li of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning at Texas A&M.

    The researchers’ findings bolster the argument that more of America’s transportation system ought to take the form of relatively narrow roadways linked by sidewalks – the kind of network that enhances public safety. The findings – which are based on a study of traffic accidents in metropolitan San Antonio from 2003 through 2007 – were presented by Dumbaugh during CNU-18 in Atlanta.

    Arterial roads – wide roadways designed to carry large volumes of vehicular traffic, faster than on neighborhood streets – are associated with a 14 percent increase in collisions involving two or more vehicles, a 10 percent increase in vehicles running into pedestrians, and 8.4 percent more vehicle-bicyclist crashes, according to Dumbaugh.

    The heightened danger, he explained, results from three factors: First, arterial roads encourage faster speeds, partly because they’re so wide. Second, they attract more vehicular traffic. Third, the many driveways along the arterials, which provide direct connections to businesses and parking lots, multiply opportunities for accidents.

    Dumbaugh and Li correlated crash statistics from metro San Antonio with the size and configuration of land uses along the region’s roads. Among their findings:

    •          For every additional strip commercial use, there was a 2.4 percent rise in multiple-vehicle collisions. The speed of the vehicles entering and leaving the parking lots presumably accounted for many of the accidents.
    •          For each additional big-box store (a single-story building of at least 50,000 sq. ft., accompanied by a parking area at least that size) there was an 8.7 percent jump in multiple-vehicle collisions. There were also increases of 8.9 percent in vehicle-pedestrian crashes and 4.6 percent in vehicle-bicyclist accidents. The greater risk associated with big-box stores probably stemmed from the stores’ heavy traffic volume and from the extra-large parking lots the motorists has to navigate.
    •          When retail was scaled to pedestrians, the environment became safer. For each pedestrian-scaled retail use – occupying a building of no more than 20,000 sq. ft. that fronted the street or had little surface space devoted to parking – there was a 3.4 percent decrease in multiple-vehicle crashes and a 1.6 percent decrease in accidents involving vehicles and pedestrians.
    •          Denser development in beneficial from a safety perspective. Higher densities cut the number of vehicle miles traveled, which reduces the frequency of crashes. Higher densities also encourage urban development configurations, which also make crashes less numerous.
    •          Crashes of vehicles into fixed objects account for nearly a third of the nation’s traffic deaths, and these single-vehicle accidents are exacerbated by arterial roadways. A chief cause is high speeds; when the vehicle turns from the road onto a driveway or side street, the driver loses control and hits a utility pole or some other stationary object.
    •          “Traffic conflicts” (where one’s stream of auto traffic intersects with other traffic movements) also are common in traditional urban designs. But they are much less dangerous there because vehicles move more slowly on narrower urban streets.

    Dumbaugh also examined how crash rates differ between arterial roadways and “livable streets” (historic main streets generally accompanied by street trees, street lighting, and pedestrian appurtenances. Per mile traveled, livable streets have 40 percent fewer midblock crashes and 67 percent fewer crashes overall.  DANGERS TO TEENS

                Teen-agers in particular are placed in greater jeopardy by a sprawling form of development, says Dr. Michael Trowbridge of the University of Virginia. Trowbridge says teen-agers are much more likely to drive 20 miles a day if they’re in the midst of a sprawl. In all, 46.8 of teens drive 20 miles per day in sprawl, while only 21.7 percent of teens in compact urban settings drive that distance.

                With more miles on the road comes a greater risk of injury or death. Approximately 43,000 Americans per year are killed in auto accidents. For every teen-ager who dies as the result of an auto accident, 400 others sustain serious injuries, and 18 are hospitalized.

                “For every age group from 3 to 33 in Atlanta, the leading cause of death is traffic crashes,” says Dr. Richard Jackson of the UCLA School of Public Health. Jackson says some cities offer lessons in how to save lives. If the US had the same traffic fatality rate as Portland, Oregon, the number of deaths nationwide would be reduced by 15,000, he says. “If the whole country had the New York City rate, there would be 24,000 fewer deaths per year.” 

    [Posted by Greg Trimmer]

    JBG’s Eurostyle Plaza

    Much of tonight’s “sketch plan” presentation was dominated by the usual talk of “massing,” parking and density. The sketch plan process is brand new, part of the C-R (Commercial-Residential) Zone process; this is the third sketch plan presentation, after the Eisinger-Fitzgerald-Nicholson Lane and Mid-Pike Plaza presentations last month. The process requires the project to be publicly discussed before the plans move to the Planning Board for review.

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    JBG already has one-third of its “North Bethesda Market” project underway on Rockville Pike; this second phase was memorably named . . . North Bethesda Market 2. The JBG proposal will add another residential tower on Rockville Pike, as well as more commercial and retail space closer to Nicholson Lane. Most people know the space as the Chili’s building.

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    But I liked something else and asked about it. JBG has planned a new road to break up the big “superblock” and increase pedestrian mobility. But it isn’t just another road with a couple of lanes and maybe some parking. The key to this road is that it bisects an “urban plaza.”

    This is the Ian Lockwood model of traffic calming. JBG said so, and they’ve hired Lockwood in the past. “We know how to do this right,” they declared. At his recent Speakers’ Series event, Montgomery County Planning Director Rollin Stanley talked about just this kind of space in Paris and elsewhere.

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    The idea is very European, and it’s been done successfully in Florida and elsewhere. Don’t just have a road, have a public space with interactions. Something to protect pedestrians. But communicate with drivers so they understand this is not a racetrack, but a special place.  This is the most modern kind of traffic calming, the type that improves the neighborhood at the same time it provides mobility and pedestrian safety.

     And now we’ll get one in White Flint.

    Nice.

    Barnaby Zall

    JBG to Unveil Sketch of No. Bethesda Market

    The new 26-story tower and Whole Foods rising on Rockville Pike across from White Flint Mall are only the first phase of JBG Companies’ North Bethesda Market project. The second and third phases are expected to include the buildings to the north, bordering Nicholson Lane and across Woodglen to the water tower block.

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     (An early projection of the North Bethesda Market project)

    Tonight JBG will unveil its preliminary sketches for the next phase of NoBeMa at a public presentation, at 7PM, in Salon E at the North Bethesda Marriott. [Note: more rain is forecast for tonight.]

    Barnaby Zall

    Nominees for White Flint Advisory Committee

    Nominations are now closed for the White Flint Advisory Committee. According to White Flint planner Nkosi Yearwood, nineteen nominations were received before the deadline. The Planning Board has said it expects to appoint 18 to the Committee in late September or October.

    Most of the names are quite familiar from the four-year effort to craft and pass the White Flint Sector Plan (which makes sense, since the call for nominations asked for people with experience and knowledge to help ensure the success of the Plan). Fourteen of the 19 are active in Friends of White Flint. Some of the nominees are:

    Residents:

     Dan Hoffman from Randolph Hills Civic Association and Citizens League of MoCo

    Chad Salganik from Randolph Hills and the web wizard of Citizens League

    Ed Rich from Old Farm

    John Fry from Fallstone (a former Friends of White Flint Director)

    Todd Lewers from the Forum (a Friends of White Flint Director)

    Della Stolsworth from Luxmanor

    Business Representatives:

    Barnaby Zall, a lawyer in White Flint, and an Old Farm resident (FoWF Co-Chair)

    Dave Freishtat from the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce (FoWF Director)

    Peggy Schwartz from the North Bethesda Traffic Management District

    Mike Springer from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (FoWF Director)

    Property Owners/Developers: 

    Greg Trimmer from JBG Companies (FoWF Treasurer)

    Evan Goldman from Federal Realty (FoWF Co-Chair)

    Francine Waters from Lerner Corp.

    Arnold Kohn from Tower Companies

    Mike Smith from LCOR White Flint LLC (FoWF Director)

    It’s also possible that some other individuals, whose nominations weren’t submitted the usual way, might also be considered, including Karl Girshman from the Wisconsin, who was very active in the original White Flint Advisory Group and helped to start FoWF. A couple of Plan opponents also nominated themselves, including Natalie Goldberg from White Flint Park/Garrett Park Estates.

    Barnaby Zall

    Candidate Responses to Questions

    ‘Tis the season, just before the Maryland primary, and candidate questionaires are in full bloom. Two in particular caught my eye — from Action Committee on Transit and Citizens League of Montgomery County, just released today:

    Citizens League: http://www.mococitizens.org/report/2010-voter-guide.

    Note that most candidates discuss White Flint, usually as an example of how development should be sustainable and transit-oriented.

    ACT: www.actfortransit.org/archives/election/election_home.html

    Ben Ross, indefatigable analyst of such things for ACT, points out that

    From FOWF’s point of view, I’m sure the most significant finding of our questionnaire was the strong support for cutting the relationship between automobile movement and development around Metro stations.  There will be a strong bloc on the council, probably 4 or 5 votes, who are now committed flat-out to completely severing the relationship.  Together with candidates who took a somewhat cautious position in their questionnaire answers but were strong advocates on White Flint (Leventhal, Navarro, Hanson), there will be a clear majority for fundamental change.  This issue is featured on the ACT scorecard, column 4 under the heading “people before cars”.

    (By the way, Ben Ross’s most recent book is now available; nothing to do with White Flint or transit, but it is interesting: a book that tells the history of the chemical industry and the environment. It’s called The Polluters: The Making of Our Chemically Altered Environment and is published by Oxford University Press. The first review (Booklist) says The Polluters is “startling, intense, and brilliantly elucidated… sharply relevant to the present-day disasters of the BP oil spill and the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion… an unlikely page-turner.” The first line, for example, is in keeping with this post: “Denora, Pennsylvania, buried its dead on Election Day.”)

    Barnaby Zall

    Noticed Anything Odd Lately?

    Have you noticed the FLOG acting a little oddly recently — that is, more odd than the usual assortment of posts by strange people like me? It’s not your imagination. We have not started running ads, and especially not for on-line casinos and fake pharmaceutical sales.

    The FLOG has grown rapidly in the last year, and we average about 5,000 “unique visitors” a week. One of the prices of our higher readership is that we become more attractive to cybercriminals and spammers. Ordinarily we take care of this invisibly, behind the scenes, but in the last few days we have been hit with automated and large-scale attacks by a Russian spammer. We think it’s cleaned up now, and the problem contained. We’re sorry for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience.

    Barnaby Zall